After yesterday’s explosion, it is for others to properly eulogize Beirut. I had only one opportunity, twenty-one years ago this month, to visit the Paris of the Middle East, to admire the ski-slopes-to-the-Mediterranean panorama, to enjoy the famous levant cuisine along the corniche, to stay in a fancy hotel the likes of which were then commonplace to hordes of foreign correspondents.
Yet I have the uneasy feeling that a eulogy is what’s in order. For Lebanon was failing, and failing fast, before yesterday’s calamity. Inflation ran at the harrowing monthly rate of 56%. State-owned Electricite du Liban could only summon power to that once-elegant corniche a couple of hours a day, and suddenly, overnight, Lebanon’s governor estimates the country will need three to five billion dollars for repairs. How does the most robust economy provide shelter overnight to 300,000 homeless people?
Just now every country is focused inward, intent on tending to itself. There may not be enough willing partners in the world to make Beirut whole. Could Beirut turn out to be the first human-caused, post-apocalyptic scorched hole in the earth? Might it just be abandoned as beyond repair by those who can – like much of the governing class? What of those left behind?